From a distance, it appeared last night as though corporate visionary Rob Ashe and his wife, Sandra Herrick, were merely hosting a backyard reunion with the gang from former software giant Cognos.
“It’s great to see everyone,” Ashe told his guests after they had a chance to eat, drink and catch up with one another on what turned out to be the perfect evening to celebrate summer solstice, the longest day of the year.
Ashe spoke of how lucky he felt to have worked with them all, and of the nostalgic feelings many still hold for their days together at Cognos, which was acquired by IBM in 2008. “I just want to thank everybody for being part of my working life.
“It was just a great time and you’re all great folks,” the former CEO of Cognos continued before quickly adding: “But, what I really need is your money.”
It was a request that was met with good-natured laughter, for everyone knew the real reason for the gathering: to secure financial support for the brand new facility that’s going to soon replace The Ottawa Hospital’s nearly 100-year-old Civic Campus.
The hospital’s team of professional fundraisers, together with its influential network of business leaders, have raised $268-million of their $500-million goal since publicly launching the Campaign to Create Tomorrow in April 2022.
The new 2.5-million-square-foot development is being constructed on a 50-acre site located not far from Ashe and Herrick’s Dows Lake home. The new $2.8-billion campus is going up along Carling Avenue and Prince of Wales Drive, near Preston Street.
The facility promises to transform health care, research and innovation when it opens by 2028 or 2029. Tim Kluke, CEO of The Ottawa Hospital Foundation, described the new campus as “the largest health-care infrastructure project of our lifetime in this city”.
Ottawa residents and physicians deserves a world-class hospital, he added. “It’s an exciting, exciting time.”
Not only is Ashe part of the foundation’s campaign executive but he and Herrick were early supporters, pledging a $10-million gift in hopes of inspiring others to also give. Ashe said the new campus is “fundamental” to the community and “for our children and our children’s children”.
Ashe is hoping the former Cognos community can collectively raise $2 million for the campaign in the coming months. He promised not to make a hard sell for huge cheques. “Every little bit counts,” said Ashe while reminding his guests that gifts can be paid out over multiple years. “Whatever people can contribute.”
Trying to raise a campaign total of $500 million in Ottawa isn’t easy, the crowd heard. “Ottawa’s not Toronto,” said Ashe of that city’s abundance of billionaires.
Ashe told the crowd how he and his wife know from personal experience the vital importance of modern health care. On the same day he was celebrated as the new CEO of Cognos in 2004, he quietly underwent laparoscopic surgery at The Ottawa Hospital. The minimally invasive procedure was performed by a leading surgeon, Dr. Eric Poulin, and took place in a new high-tech operating room that the leadership at Cognos had contributed toward, as it turned out.
Ashe had tumors removed from his abdomen, he shared last June on the Digging Deep podcast hosted by our now-mayor Mark Sutcliffe. Fortunately, the tumors turned out to be benign, he said on the show. Tom Manley, who was the CFO at the time, covered for Ashe while he was off work.
In 2020, Ashe was recognized by Ottawa’s business community with a Lifetime Achievement Award. Among his accomplishments were helping to transform the publicly traded Cognos into Canada’s first billion-dollar software company and, subsequently, devoting much of his time to mentoring local CEOs and assisting community groups. He’s been on the board of directors at Shopify since 2014.
Guests also heard from campaign donor and former Cognos executive Alan Rottenberg about his commitment to the hospital. He said he was ready to give the moment Ashe reached out to him. “He had me at ‘Hello’,” joked Rottenberg, borrowing a popular line from the romantic comedy Jerry Maguire. “I know that if Rob and Sandy are committed to something in the community and are gracious enough to ask me to participate, I have only one answer: Yes.”
Rottenberg said he knows how important it is for hospitals to have top technology and talent; he’s the former board chair of the University of Ottawa Heart Institute Foundation, another local health care institution of excellence.
Dr. Alan Forster, executive vice president and chief innovation and quality officer at The Ottawa Hospital, spoke about work the hospital is doing to organize complex data information and to protect patient privacy with synthetic data. As well, he touched on the role entrepreneurs will play at the new facility. “I can tell you that doctors and nurses love to work alongside people who dream that they can change the world because of a product that they have made. It’s such a great thing. If you combine that with people who dream of saving people’s lives, imagine the excitement that comes from that.”
The aging Civic Campus was built in 1924, after the Spanish flu pandemic. The mayor at the time, Harold Fisher, recognized Ottawa needed a big-city hospital. He put plans in place while the community pulled together to collect $3.5 million, said Kluke.
“Here we are, just coming through our last pandemic, with an opportunity to shape the future of health care,” said Kluke. “Innovation, technology is a big part of what The Ottawa Hospital does today, and it’s going to be a very large part of what the new campus development will be.”